blueberry / Photo Jamie Brown / The Northern Star
blueberry / Photo Jamie Brown / The Northern Star

MP says overseas workers vital

OVERSEAS workers and backpackers are essential to the fruit-picking industry, the Member for Page Kevin Hogan has told a meeting of local business people.

Mr Hogan was addressing the Grafton Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast meeting when he was asked about foreign ownership of land and overseas workers.

A member of the chamber executive, Mark Butler, asked Mr Hogan what the government was doing to combat countries like China buying up large tracts of Australian land and the prospect of those owners employing Australian workers.

"We've got that fear of the potential tax income disappearing out of the country," Mr Butler said.

"What is the Federal Government doing to tighten those laws to ensure that foreign ownership doesn't impact on the Australian economy."

Mr Hogan said the government, led by the Nationals, was fighting foreign ownership.

This included setting a minimum property sale of $15million before the sale was brought to the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Mr Hogan said the limit in 2013 had been $250million.

"Even then I think that's ($15million) too high, but at least it's cumulative so, if they buy an $8million and a $7million property, they appear on the board's radar," he said.

He added the two major parties (Labor and Liberal) largely did not see this as an issue.

On the labour force question, Mr Hogan said the country needed foreign workers, whether they were backpackers or on other work visas.

"If you're at Wagga and you want to get your oranges off, or at Coffs with your blueberries, we would not get it off if we did not have backpackers and these 457 visa workers," he said.

"It's an issue because the unemployed in this country won't do it. We can go into it and why it doesn't happen, but that's a different issue.

"Right now our farmers can't rely on Australian workers to do these jobs."

Mr Hogan said "hundreds of thousands" of people in Australia were now doing those jobs and they were essential.



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